Music teaching is one of the oldest known professions in history. And although we have come a long way since the Middle Ages, unfortunately the method in which music is taught hasn’t changed all that much.
Traditionally, musicians were hired by the nobility to perform pieces for entertainment and ceremonies of the court and church to compose music for the said events and to educate the children of the nobility on how to play their instruments. The musician provided several services for the noble family and was provided with patronage so that they could continue their craft. If a commoner or lesser noble wanted to learn music, they would have to find one of these musicians and trade labor for their time so that they could teach them.
While society is much further developed and we now trade money for time, the lesson format of sitting with a teacher one-on-one for 30-60 minutes hasn’t changed at all.
And not once in over 1000 years has anyone ever questioned whether this is the best way to learn.
How do you learn at school?
How do you learn at university?
And how do you train when you’re playing football, basketball and the majority of sports?
The answer is in groups.
Group teaching isn’t anything new to music. However, it’s always been seen as a lesser option when giving the student the choice of group lessons or private lessons. Has anyone ever stopped to ask why?
There is such a negative attitude towards group lessons and a stigma that they aren’t as good for learning. This is just straight up wrong.
Group lessons are great for learning. And almost every occurrence of formal education you’ve ever had in your life has been in group format. Furthermore, if you go and study music at universities, 23 of your 24 contact hours are usually classes or small groups with only a single private lesson each week.
So why do we stick to the traditional private lesson approach to teaching guitar? Because they are easy, and because they are familiar.
But we often don’t even stop to think if there are some disadvantages for the student, such as:
Now, there will still be instances where private lessons are better suited to a particular student’s needs and circumstances, such as when the student needs direct or specialised information or feedback when preparing for an exam. In these circumstances, you should have the opportunity for private lessons as a permanent option or in addition to their group lessons.
I know some of you will be reading this and will be absolutely seething at the idea of group lessons because they deviate from the standard. Listen, I know you learned from your teacher in private lessons. And your teacher learned from their teacher that way. And their teacher before them repeated over and over back into the dark ages.
Listen Dude! (Or Dudette) Repeat the same old methods and you get the same old results. You wouldn’t take medical advice from a doctor in the ’60s or athletics advice from a 1920s sports coach. Why are you using dated teaching formats and methods that have long since been advanced upon.
There is nothing you can teach in a private lesson that you can’t teach in group lessons. Sure, having three people on three very different levels can make it more challenging to teach some specific topics. But that’s only if you don’t know how to effectively level and layer content to meet the needs of each of those students where they are currently at. And that can be easily avoided if you just organise your groups around specific levels or areas of interest.
Whenever someone says, “Group lessons don’t work,” what they are really saying is, “Group lessons didn’t work for me when I tried them.”
This doesn’t mean that they don’t work at all. In fact, in my guitar school (which has over 200 students) 97% of them are learning in groups. These includes the 12-years-olds who can play Holy Wars by Megadeth, the 11-year-old who can play Hammer Smashed Face by Cannibal Corpse, and the VCE Topclass Guitar Student of 2016 who had the highest exam score in my state out of over 4,000 guitar players.
If you’re a guitar teacher but you can’t teach groups, you’re seriously doing yourself and your students a great disservice. Sure, you should still keep a couple of slots open for private lessons. And you will undoubtedly have some students who work best in that format. But unless you’re making a switch to groups, you’ll always be stuck with a fixed amount of income and working maximum hours to fill your schedule in order to make it while forever giving your students a limited education that doesn’t touch on the musical skills required when playing with others.
Making the switch to group lessons when teaching guitar will be the best decision you ever make, for you, your family, and your students.
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